A Candid Update

I must come clean. I haven't been exactly forthcoming with you, my loyal readers. I have actually been on disability leave from work since early August - soon after I had the first reaction to the Nebulizer. The intent was to take a few months, get things normalized, put on some weight and strength, and get back to work around the first of next year.

Thus far, this has not happened.

Since my last post, things have been a bit rough. I had a bad bout with GI problems for about a month which exacerbated everything else - you can't heal if you aren't digesting your food. Pulmonary got worse, I lost a few more pounds (all of which seems to have been muscle mass), and all that together certainly hasn't helped my mental and psychological well-being.

I also kind of feel like I have lost my way. Not working is making me feel unproductive; although I have personal projects to work on, I am a bad procrastinator and waste a lot of time on useless crap from browsing the web to watching NCIS reruns to playing Spider Solitaire, obsessively undo-ing and re-attempting until I beat every game. Man I am neurotic. Also, as a result of the further weight loss and the requirement for supplemental oxygen, I haven't ridden my motorcycle in about a month.

There has been a glimmer of hope the last couple weeks though. I don't want to jinx it, but I can say I feel a bit better than a couple weeks ago. I saw a new pulmonologist at UCLA on the 6th who I really like. She's proactive and has some new ideas on both defeating my acute problems and managing my chronic condition. This has certainly improved my outlook, if nothing else.

Mid-October 2009 Health Update

It's been mostly plateaued since last post. I finished pulmonary rehab a couple weeks ago and have already started to fall off the exercise wagon. I really don't have a lot of energy reserves and it's hard to compel myself even though I know intellectually exercise is not just good for me - it's essential. I found a strength training program that I like the concept of and I think will work for me. It's simple and achievable even initially in my rather weakened state. Cardio is another issue. I think I really have to do it every day in order to get myself into a habit, at least for the time being.

I did see some specialists at USC last week with whom I was very impressed; I'm trying to get on board with them for some more testing. They said the first order of business is to figure out why I'm losing weight, fix that issue, and fatten me up. One theory is improper enzyme balance (which has been presented by my infectious disease doctor as well). They also recommended switching brands on the nebulizer medicine to alleviate the bronchospasm side effect.

A good nutritional plan also continues to elude me - I just have trouble really sticking to anything when I don't see conclusive results after several days or a week. Some of my recent research has indicated that maybe my body is in an acidic state and I need more alkalizing foods in my diet. I do know that I've been getting heartburn pretty regularly and my digestion hasn't been so good for about a week. I have been monitoring my weight and haven't lost anything so that's good at least.

My mood in reaction to this progresslessness is kind of split: part of me is frustrated that nothing seems to do much permanently, part of me has accepted that this is the way things are, and part of me admits that I'm not even doing all the right things I am aware of and is determined to change that.

Two Health Victories

The health saga continues. I have two notable victories to share since last time I posted. The first is that I started seeing my chiropractor again. This isn't necessarily earth-shattering in itself, but he got a table that's quite amazing. It's called the CERAGEM-RH. You lay on your back on top of it and it has rollers that travel up and down either side of your spine along with infrared heat. Although the first couple half-hour treatments were painful since my back was so tight and I have next to no natural padding, I can already tell some health benefits after only three sessions. My posture is improving and my back seems both a bit stronger and more mobile. Most importantly though, my ribcage pivots like it is supposed to; before it wouldn't expand much (if at all) when I breathed deeply. It was kind of like trying to blow up a balloon inside a steel cage rather than in free air - I could breathe in to a certain point but it just wouldn't go anymore. That sensation is now gone.

The second victory is something quite simplistic. Some supplements actually work. I have been consistently taking a multivitamin, a probiotic supplement, and cod liver oil for the past week and a half and have noticed a marked improvement in my digestion. I haven't notably changed my diet, sleep pattern, or started making incantations in that time so I'm pretty darn sure that the supplements are doing it. Along with improved digestion has come, I believe, improved absorption - I have gained two or three pounds since my lowest.

The upshot of all the above is that generally, over the last week, I feel like my health has been improving. Yesterday I took a walk at a pretty good clip and my stamina held out for the nearly hour I was out. I have energy to do more than just sit around. Unfortunately, I was a bad boy last night and most of today and ate way too many nasty inflammatory foods (pizza, ice cream, pancakes, mac & cheese, creme brulee) so when I went for my walk today I was rather wheezy and didn't make it nearly as far in as good condition. It was a fruitful experience though; it reminded me of the cost of eating bad stuff.

Battle of the Titans: Rehab vs. Antibiotics

I realize it's been awhile since my last health update (4 weeks, to be exact). Things have improved moderately since then. I took oral antibiotics for a couple weeks while my lungs calmed down after the assault from the nebulizer. After about a week, I was able to function without oxygen all the time.

I started pulmonary rehab 3 weeks ago. The intent is to get patients on a regular exercise schedule (strength training, breathing exercises, and cardiovascular exercise). I participated last May-July and it helped a great deal but getting sick in November and staying sick through May of this year pretty much wiped out my progress and then some. I have been doing OK with the program but not great. My energy level is not very high and with the fires and heat of the last week it has been difficult to get outside and walk daily.

On top of that, I have been placed back on the nebulizer - this time a different drug, Tobramycin. I am tolerating it, but barely. It basically gives me mild asthmatic symptoms all the time so I have been attempting to find a balance between enough drug to keep the infection at bay and not so much that I get a violent reaction like last time. It also seems to make my stomach a little more sensitive than usual.

Nutrition plays a big role too - another complication as my appetite isn't the greatest lately and even when I am hungry I get full kind of quickly and breathing is difficult if I overeat. My weight is beginning to cause me troubles - my leg muscles (well, I guess all my muscles) are pretty weak and doing almost anything beyond sitting or walking at a slow pace gets exerting quickly. Additionally, my entire left leg hurt earlier this evening - my friend Laura theorized that perhaps something came out of joint and the nerve was pressured. Makes sense. Fortunately, I found a spot to sit and it went away after a while. Regarding weight gain, the Vita-Mix has been great for making smoothies or really anything that needs pureed.

I don't want to sound like I'm terribly down or defeated - I actually have some degree of hope but know it's going to take a while before I'm better. I have goals and plans, the trick is just going to be sticking to those plans. I've always been an excellent planner but not so good at following them.

Late Summer Miscellany

It's been an interesting few weeks. Mostly health-wise, which I'll spell out in greater detail this Tuesday. However, a couple things have occurred otherwise recently.

My car started making a rattly sound in the front right. Took it to the mechanic and turns out I have the beginnings of a rod knock. Yuck. This means the engine will need to be replaced (!) sooner or later (hopefully later). They put some thickening junk in there and thicker motor oil to hopefully prolong things, but it's starting to get symptomatic just a couple weeks later. I have to get it smogged before September is out so I'll see what happens there. It's going to be expensive to fix but cheaper than buying something else.

I got a new phone - an HTC Touch Pro. Thanks to my Verizon New Every Two promotion, I only had to pay tax. I like it a lot so far - I had gotten used to a QWERTY with my enV and had missed it on the XV6900 but definitely find a smartphone to be exceedingly useful. Now I have the best of both worlds.

I took a motorcycle ride yesterday down to Polly's Gourmet Coffee in Long Beach with my buddy Michael. It was really hot so we got iced coffee drinks, which were incredible. Michael and his wife have a miniature dachshund that had puppies a couple months ago so I went over to check them out this afternoon. Unfortunately, my parents aren't animal people so no puppy for me.

It's Been a Rough Week...

In stark contrast to the cheery, wine-and-roses nonsense from last week, this week hasn't been so great. Since I last posted, I have had two rather profound reactions to my nebulized antibiotic. The first occurred last Wednesday night. I did the dose as usual, went down and ate dinner and was rather shaky - an expected side effect of the albuterol. I woke Thursday morning after a night of badly interrupted sleep - short of breath and coughing all night long and knew it would be a bad idea to take the oxygen off, so I left it on and stayed home from work - meanwhile refraining from nebulizing anything. Friday morning I felt marginally better (I didn't need oxygen) and I got in touch with the doctor and explained my situation. I was advised to use the albuterol just in the morning before taking the antibiotic and the antibiotic alone at night. Friday night I took another dose, just antibiotic. Saturday I ran a couple errands and was kinda more tired than usual but functional. Saturday night I took another full dose of the antibiotic sans albuterol. A couple hours later the fun started...

They're called bronchospasms, but it feels like a baboon sitting on your chest. I have been unable to breathe freely since Saturday night. Fortunately, I did discover that I wasn't reacting to the albuterol other than the jitteryness and that it did relieve the situation to a degree. I use it every few hours when the tightness and discomfort starts to return. I haven't removed the oxygen for more than about five minutes, and that with some degree of discomfort. I've obviously been unable to go to work. For the first couple days, it was difficult to eat because I'd get badly winded chewing and swallowing. Things have been improving, but very slowly. Realistically, it would be pleasantly surprising if I can function without the oxygen by sometime this weekend.

In the meantime, I am back on Cipro (oral antibiotic) and Singulair until the culture comes back to see what else any lingering infection will respond to.

On another note, the Vita-Mix came today, but I haven't used it for anything yet.

Quick Health Update

Not a whole lot to report. I've been off the IV antibiotics for a week and off the oral antibiotic since Friday. I've been doing the breathing treatments with the nebulizer, which seem to be doing the trick. The albuterol that I mix the antibiotic in with makes me a bit jittery after the treatment. I discovered that it's similar to adrenaline so that's not much of a surprise. The adrenaline crash is part of the reaction too.

I'm generally feeling like the infection is gone. I still cough up a little stuff but it's not menacing like before. I didn't feel great this afternoon - kind of full, bloated and uncomfortable after my afternoon smoothie. I think maybe it's too big. I also had a long couple days at work so I was just generally kind of wiped out.

I started tracking my diet last week using a website called FitDay. By late afternoon the first day I was only up to 1250 calories and got disheartened and quit tracking. I still need to get back to the gym. It's tough to do when one doesn't have any energy reserves at the end of the day, but I know it'll help my lungs and my appetite both.

Quality Time With Grandma Jean

Grandma Jean, my mom's mom, has been visiting from Florida for about a week and a half. She leaves tomorrow to return home. We've been having a good time and I took a couple days off last week to hang out with her. Some of the highlights include:

  • Eating at both my favorite breakfast places (Rudy's and Crème de la Crêpe)
  • Selecting pictures from Grandma Grace's 100th birthday party for a collage (seen at the end of this post)
  • Watching classic family favorites like It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World and The Princess Bride
  • Greek food at George's Greek Cafe in Long Beach (The roasted shoulder of lamb special on Friday nights is the best lamb and some of the best meat I've ever eaten)
  • And lots of Pinochle!

It's been a fun week and a half and I'll be sad to see her leave. I'm already planning my next trip out to Florida - hopefully around November.

Long-Term Treatment

As of today, I finished the IV antibiotics and started the nebulized (inhaled) antibiotics, which will be a long-term thing. I finish the oral antibiotics Friday. The intent is that whatever the IV and oral didn't kill off, the nebulizer will keep suppressed. I am, quite honestly, glad to be done with both the oral and the IV antibiotics. The oral are starting to bother my stomach and the PICC line is often itchy. I feel much better than a month ago and can only hope that the nebulizer does the trick.

On another note, I did a bit of Googling and discovered that Vita-Mix offers a medical needs program. I called to confirm and found that it was indeed true - all you need is a note with affirmation of medical necessity from your doctor. Considering I've lost 1/3 of my body weight since I was "healthy," I certainly think I qualify, and my immunologist agreed to write the note for me. Some might wonder if a Vita-Mix is simply overpriced hype. I was certainly skeptical until I used my grandma's. It blew every other blender out of the water - and it's about 20 years old. When I made smoothies, it even pulverized the berry seeds (which unlocks the nutrients within). I'm confident that it will be a big help toward returning to a healthy weight.

I've been a slacker and haven't kept a dietary journal. I'll start this week.

Greener Pastures

This post is a response to Laura's post entitled "What should we mean by 'greener pastures'?" on her ecclesiology blog.

In essence, Laura states that there are five areas of needs that must be met to one degree or another, depending on the individual:

  • Adequate Resources
  • Adequate Social Space
  • Encourage and Equip My Calling
  • Fit My Worldview
  • Accurate Assessment of My Worth

If one or more of these needs is inadequately met, one may feel the emotional pull to seek out "greener pastures," or a body of believers that will better meet their needs.

As someone who has lately been experiencing these emotions, I know it is easy to become torn. I don't want to "jump ship" simply because something else might be better, but I also don't want to settle for less than satisfactory in any of the areas mentioned. There is also the fear of the unknown and the comfort of the familiar that hinders me from making a decision. As it stands, my current faith community, TFB, falls short in the "Adequate Social Space" category and, to a lesser degree, in the "Accurate Assessment of My Worth" category.

I enjoy and treasure the relationships that I have at TFB, but something is still missing. I am the only person in my mid-to-late-20s in the entire community, and something I miss from college is being around a large number of peers and interacting with people who shared not only age but interests and station in life. There is also the fact that I would like to get married to a well-rooted Christian woman and raise a family someday. This would become more likely if I regularly related with single Christian women approximately my age.

I also feel that modern Christianity (and not just TFB) has a bit of a stigma, whereas people are not "grown-up" until they get married. This causes people who choose to be single or who have long graduated college but not yet found the right person to be stuck in limbo. One one hand, this is where I feel like I am. On the other hand, I serve in three distinct capacities at TFB - I am on the CE committee, I am a leader and co-founder of the Sanctify! ministry, and I play bass for the worship band (although I have been on hiatus lately while tending to my health issues) and feel that I have been called to serve in these capacities. It would be difficult to give them up.

From my perspective, my options are:

  • Remain where I am and do nothing different, slightly dissatisfied but not disgruntled
  • Leave TFB completely and find a new body with which to worship
  • Remain in some capacities at TFB, but find something like a para-church organization to be part of
  • Remain at TFB and commit to either building a strong population of 20-somethings at TFB or expanding Sanctify! beyond TFB

Aside from the first, all will take some work, growth, and discomfort. The fourth is the most lofty but is also very appealing if it comes to fruition to the degree I envision and dream

I must prayerfully consider all my options. This is something I don't want to rush or make the wrong decision. Feedback is not only welcome but requested.

A Visit to the Nutritionist

This afternoon, I had my appointment with the nutritionist that my pulmonary doctor referred me to. The big takeaways were (a) I REALLY need to be snacking between meals, preferably a couple hours before the next meal, and (b) it takes 3500 extra calories to gain one pound. Some ideas she gave me for good, high-calorie snacks:

  • Nuts (850 calories per cup)
  • Dried fruit (400 calories per cup)
  • Avocado Italian style - mashed (250 calories) with salt and olive oil (125 calories per tablespoon)
  • Nutrition drinks - I've had Ensure and it's nasty after a while, but there are other brands
  • Adding extra cheese or dressing to stuff I'm eating anyway

I definitely got a vibe of sincerity and genuine concern from her as I unfolded my last several years of health history. She not only understood but also emphasized the importance of maintaining a healthy weight in order to support the immune system and better fight disease. The trick, she says, is to change your habits and routines so they become part of your lifestyle - I may even need to go as far as to set an alarm to remind myself to eat every couple hours (this seems obvious when someone says they want to gain weight, but I have never been one to eat just for its own sake - I eat when I'm hungry).

Beginning tomorrow, I'm going to keep track of what I eat and weigh in every week so I can have an idea of what works and doesn't. I am not sure that I am ready to share my weight yet - suffice it to say that I am profoundly underweight.

Haiku 7/11/09

greek fest for dinner
kebab, beer, dessert, coffee
fun with mom and pop

Ongoing Treatment

After being off the IV antibiotics for only a few days, I felt myself getting slightly worse. I saw the doctor this morning who was not hesitant to put me on another two weeks. The plan is to continue with both the oral and IV antibiotics for another two weeks, and then move to an inhaled antibiotic that will be taken with a nebulizer. This will be a long-term treatment. The doctor said that pseudomonas is remarkably hard to wipe out completely as not all the individual bacteria are exact clones. Some are slightly different (and resistant). Thus the multi-pronged approach. I really hope that this course of treatment does indeed offer some long-term relief - I have grown weary of being acutely sick. I continue to try to remain upbeat and hopeful.

June 2009 Budget Update & Mid-year Analysis

In general, I did well keeping to my budgeted amounts in June. It was a rough month health-wise so between office visits, prescriptions, and my massage, my expenses there went over. I also bought a GPS system for my bike, which I categorized as auto but should probably go in misc or bike. Auto is more for maintenance and gas. My spending money came in under budget, primarily because I was sick for a week and a half and didn't leave the house for much of anything and didn't go to the cafeteria at work.

Now, on to the 6-month check-up since I began budgeting/tracking expenditures. My spending money category is good - my average is slightly over my intended $15/day. My medical allotment is low - I've budgeted $2/day and it has been more like $3/day (chiropractic and massages figured separately - those are very controllable). The "miscellaneous" category is interesting. I've bought a fair number of medium-to-big-ticket items:

  • Microwave
  • Projector bulb
  • Car seat re-upholstery
  • Timing belt repair
  • Motorcycle
  • Motorcycle safety gear
  • Mattress
  • Motorcycle GPS

I have no regrets about any of the above and can certainly justify each of them to some degree (ok, so the GPS is more of a frivolity than any of the rest of it) but they are also all items that need purchased once every blue moon. I was able to pay for them out of savings or budget surplus (which would otherwise have gone to savings) with the exception of the motorcycle, which I feel I got a fair financing deal on through the BMW dealership. I really don't see myself having a several-hundred dollar unexpected expense every month so I'm going to leave my misc category where it is right now and just see what happens the rest of the year.

Since I have the motorcycle now, I'm very motivated to get it paid off quickly. This should help with frivolous expenditures (mostly buying breakfast and lunch at the cafeteria instead of taking it from home). I'd also like to automate as much as possible. I already have a few things automated but want to explore the capabilities of my ING Direct accounts. I'd also like to go through my stuff and sell or pass on the extraneous junk, as much for de-cluttering sake as anything else. Proceeds will go to the motorcycle loan.

Continuing Progress

Healthwise, not much has changed since last week. I'm still on the IV and oral antibiotics and continuing to feel like I am finally recovering. The pulmonary doctor referred me to both a nutritionist and to Pulmonary Rehab again (I participated in the program last summer with good effects and progress, but that has been undone and then some by my long struggle this winter).

When I am free of infection, I can actually make progress on my chronic lung issues. The real trick is going to be staying on top things and catching infections early and not letting them get out of hand.

Getting Things Done

Sometime around a week ago, I was sitting at my desk at home shuffling papers and trash and lamenting that it seemed like that's all I ever accomplished. My dad said, "Pip! You need to read Getting Things Done!" So I borrowed his copy and read it cover-to-cover with great zest and enthusiasm.

Let me first say, this is a great book. It guides the reader to being at the top of his potential productivity. Some of the points that stood out to me are:

  • Your mind is horrible at short-term storage.
  • Unfulfilled obligations (even to yourself) cripple your productivity, creativity, and genius.
  • The next action is a very important concept.
  • Don't overcomplicate things.

Since I finished the book Wednesday afternoon, I have been working on implementing GTD (the fitting acronym for David Allen's "system") both at work and at home. I have started cleaning out and off both desks (not a modest task at either place), gotten my email inboxes to zero, given myself permission to let go of some projects that had realistically been long-dead anyway, and done a personal brain-dump (I'll do one for work this week).

I certainly have a ways to go. The biggest task is going to be getting a digital system set up that is cohesive and transparent. We use Lotus Notes at work, I carry a Windows Mobile smartphone, my primary personal email is through gmail. The biggie will be getting Notes to cooperate. I'm looking into it but any ideas are welcome.

As the days/weeks/months go by, I'll be posting on my experiences under the tag GTD.

Amortization Calculators and Aggressive Debt Reduction

Lately, I've been thinking about the debt that I have. I have an American Express credit card that I pay off every month - I don't think I've ever paid interest. I also have a sizable privately funded student loan from my undergraduate days (2000-2004) that has been in deferment to this point. Starting this summer, its term is ten years. Finally, I have my motorcycle loan from BMW, which has a five year term.

After all is said and done, I have a fixed amount "above and beyond" what I need for my usual budgeted living expenses (housing, groceries, medical, etc.) that is pretty much discretionary. Currently, I split that evenly between my Roth IRA and the BMW loan. Six weeks from now, my Roth IRA will be 50% funded for 2009. I have decided to shift gears at that point and apply all the "above and beyond" to the motorcycle. When 2010 rolls around, I will re-allocate these discretionary funds so that by the end of the year my Roth will be once again funded 50% and the rest will go toward the motorcycle. On top of this, "extra" paychecks (I get paid every Thursday and budget monthly so every 3 months there is a surplus) will be contributed 50% toward loan repayment. When the motorcycle is paid off, I'll simply apply the payments to my student loan.

Using a loan amortization schedule I found here, I calculated that this tactic will pay my bike off on May 14, 2010 (one year minus one day after I bought it) and my student loan will be paid off in June of 2012. At that point, I will step my Roth IRA back up to 100% annually. I'll probably increase my 403(b) contribution at work as well.

I don't feel like I will be missing out on anything huge by reducing my Roth IRA contributions - I will still be contributing and I have been contributing 8% of my pre-tax income (I don't remember exactly why I chose this number but I'm sure there was some logic to it) to my 403(b) since I started working full-time in January of 2005. In addition, my employer contributes 8% to a 401(a) in addition to my paycheck. To me, the peace of mind of having the loans paid off is worth the opportunity cost.

The Importance of Proper Diagnosis

As a result of last week's bronchoscopy, the doctors discovered that I have pseudomonas, a particularly nasty drug-resistant bacterial infection. The bummer of it is, I was diagnosed with the same thing back in February and I believe it's what's been plaguing me since as far back as November! They placed me on an aggressive regimen of oral and IV-based antibiotics. The IV is administered at home, twice a day, so hospitalization isn't required and I can pretty much continue with life as usual.

I went to the radiology department at Torrance Memorial Medical Center to get a PIC line inserted into my upper arm so I don't have to get stuck over and over. The PIC line placement process is rather fascinating, utilizing both ultrasound and x-ray technology for feedback. At one point they "tickled a nerve" and I felt tingly all the way down in my forearm, even though they had injected a local anesthetic and had a tourniquet on my entire arm.

As a result of treatment, I am already feeling better. The chest congestion has cleared to barely a trickle. I can breathe more easily but have definitely been weakened by the months of infection - it'll take a while and some work to return to "normal."

Since the IV line is in anyway, I asked my doctor about the possibility of intravenous nutrition. He instead prescribed me an appetite stimulant. Hopefully this will help me gain some weight. I haven't been to the gym in about a week and a half - getting all this figured out was quite an ordeal.

For the first time in quite a while, I actually have a sense of hope and even a glimmer of optimism (although I am a realist, which optimists usually mistake for pessimists). My emotional and psychological well-being are better than they have been and I have some zeal and energy for life.

Happy Father's Day!

I'm probably biased, but Pop is the best!

He also fixed the creamed corn and warm potato salad for his own father's day dinner. Good stuff, along with Daniel's BBQ chicken and Stevo's butterscotch pudding.

Re-commitment to Changing My Mind

Some time ago, my friend Laura wrote about Mental Transformation. Unfortunately, the page she references is no longer available. The gist of it was that it is easy to change your worldview to be more Christlike. Simply read a book of the Bible - twenty times. Repeat this for the rest of the books.

I modified the process slightly - I purchased ESV mp3s from The Listener's Bible and began listening through each Old Testament book a dozen times. I made it through Genesis, Exodus, and then seven times through Leviticus and then kind of fizzled out. I'm officially re-committing myself to continue the practice. It's very easy to put it on while I'm at work and let whatever comes through come through. Although it's just in the background, it really does start to sink in after a few times.

I'll post my progress here occasionally to keep me accountable.

Bronchoscopy, Massage, and Returning to Work

For the last week and a half, I have felt adequately unwell that I haven't been able to go to work. Yesterday morning I had a bronchoscopy whereby they also cleared a bunch of mucus out of my lungs. It has been easier to breathe since, but I am still coughing up stuff. I spoke to the doctor and they did find a bacterial infection in the culture, but haven't determined what drug it is responsive to. At least this is somewhat encouraging that they might get me on something that will help.

I went to get a massage today - my dad referred me to his massage therapist. He's talked to her about my health issues and she is hopeful that massage will improve my circulation and perhaps stimulate my immune system since the spine is integral. I can say for sure that it was about the most relaxing hour I can remember and I felt better afterward. I definitely plan to return, probably every couple weeks.

I'm planning to return to work tomorrow. My job is, fortunately, not physically taxing but it's still tiring to be at work all day long. It will be nice to see my coworkers again and of course there is work that must be caught up.

Grace Ford Cordell: February 10, 1908 - June 10, 2009

My great-grandmother, Grace Ford Cordell, passed away last Wednesday while sleeping peacefully under qualified and loving care at hospice. She was 101 and 4 months to the day. Here she is on her 100th birthday with all her great-grandkids:

I will miss her dearly but am glad that she is now at home in the presence of God.

May 2009 Budget

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, this month saw a few large expenditures that indeed deviated from budgeted expenses. The big one was, of course, my new motorcycle. Associated with that purchase was the requisite safety gear - my old stuff had served its purpose. I also bought a new mattress as more of an investment in getting better sleep and thereby better health. I shopped around quite a bit and got a nice one with a 10-year warranty for a good price. The timing belt on my car broke the day before I got my motorcycle (uncanny!) but it was relatively inexpensive for a timing belt replacement since my engine is non-interference, meaning it doesn't eat the valves when it fails.

The one area where I really let it get out of hand was grocery/eating out/entertainment. I've found that with an appropriate balance, I can enjoy life and get by on my $15/day with little problem. The idea is that groceries are cheaper than eating out, so it's a balancing act. Well, I ate out way too much this month. I also spent a lot at the cafeteria at work - instead of bringing healthful inexpensive food from home, I'd eat less healthy overpriced food there. I ended up $125 over - an average of $4 a day!

My major financial goal for June is to get that category reigned in and brought back to a more reasonable level.

I have already developed a payment plan for my bike - I'm going to divert everything from my student loan principle to that through the end of the year. At the end of the year, I'll re-adjust my Roth IRA contribution for 2010 and increase my motorcycle payments accordingly. Although my loan term is 5 years, I am on track to pay it back in less than half that if all goes well. Then it's on to the student loan...

Book Review: unChristian

A friend of mine recently sent me the book unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity... and Why It Matters. I finished reading it last night and thought I would share some thoughts.

The book examines how Christianity today is perceived by young adults (~16-30 years old). The authors did a good amount of research to determine the following 6 big issues (each topic gets its own chapter):

  • Hypocritical
  • Get Saved!
  • Antihomosexual
  • Sheltered
  • Too Political
  • Judgmental

Each chapter examines some issues and comments (gleaned from both Christians and "outsiders") associated with its topic. At the end of the chapter appear several relevant anecdotes or thoughts from notable Christian leaders.

The ultimate finding is that Christians have, in both perception and reality, become too concerned with rules instead of people. Christians need to become more like Jesus and less like the Pharisees - we should be a picture of Christ.

The book is well-written and not difficult to read or digest and it does a good job pointing out shortcomings without being overly accusatory or negative - there are some good counterexamples presented that show more Christlike behavior. I see a lot of myself in some chapters (but not necessarily all) and will readily admit that I find it easy to try to project my values on others, whether they are Christians or not.

I would recommend this book to any Christian, anyone in the 16-30 age range that the book focuses on, and especially to church leaders or teachers who have direct influence or interactions with people in that age range.

Health Update 06-09-2009

Last weekend was pretty good. I ate pretty well, felt decent most of the time, got enough rest, and caught up with a couple friends. I had my monthly IVIG infusion on Friday, which didn't knock me out as badly as it usually does. However, I have been feeling lousy the last couple days - tired, very congested, and generally kind of fuzzy in the brain. I've been staying home from work to rest but really feel like I need to get back. I'm still taking all the supplements and sticking to the Maker's Diet. I'm going to try to cut out ALL dairy, including goat and sheep, for the next couple weeks and see if that is indeed contributing to the congestion.

Follow-up to Yesterday...

Just thought I'd post a quick update to yesterday's post - I actually feel marginally better today than I did yesterday. I coughed up less junk this morning and generally felt a bit better rested. One thing I changed - I had a tea last night right before bed made with ginger, lemon, and honey - all of which are supposed to be beneficial to the lungs. I think I'll keep it up as it is very tasty as well. Tonight is my first night on my new bed so we'll see how that does for me.


As I mentioned in last week's post, I saw the pulmonologist on Wednesday. He prescribed me another inhaler and encouraged more regular usage of The Vest. I had not used it much as it made me feel beat up and cough up bloody mucus. However, my mom came up with the idea to wear a down vest underneath it for a bit of padding. This seems to help. The idea is that it loosens the phlegm and I can cough it up more easily. Doing this coupled with going to work a bit later seems to be improving my quality of life in the mornings - I basically get all the junk out at once instead of over the course of a few hours. I really wish the phlegm production could be stopped or minimized, but it's better than nothing.

After a week off the antibiotics I haven't had a relapse, so I think it's just a matter of my lungs getting back to "normal." I'm going to get back to the gym starting Thursday and will probably take it easy the first few days back. I've decided to focus on weight training at least 1-2 days a week so I can start building some muscle - especially on my legs.

The new mattress I bought on Sunday which will be delivered tomorrow - hopefully that will help too. I am the 4th or so person to have my current one, and it wasn't great to begin with. I imagine it's full of dander and dust mites as well.

I'm trying to be consistent with supplements as well - both those recommended by the Maker's Diet and the Oxymatrine from my Infectious Disease doctor (the antiviral). Hopefully something of this multi-tiered approach will start to make a difference (or, I suspect, they may work best in concert). I continue to hope but it is easy to get discouraged sometimes.

I think I should start keeping a hand-written health journal to track how I feel, what I eat, and what exercises I do. This may help paint a clear picture as well.

Fiscal Frivolity

It seems May has been a month of budget overages. I haven't run the sums yet, but I did make some big purchases that I hadn't quite expected:

  • A replacement projector bulb
  • A new motorcycle
  • Appropriate safety equipment for said motorcycle
  • A new mattress set to replace my 4th-hand set

The above purchases were made with funds I had saved ahead of time or financed at relatively good rates with no prepayment penalties (the motorcycle). I did better on the mattress than I could have - I had considered getting a new frame and switching to a platform bed but it just made more sense to get a nicer mattress set - which I comparison shopped for at 5 places and got a good deal on the one I eventually bought (1/2 MSRP). I don't regret any of the big purchases above, but I have also been eating out quite a bit lately. Maybe it's because I don't feel well and don't feel like fixing food at home. Or maybe it's that I know my budget is way out of whack and I just figure I'll start over in June. It's probably also partially my tendency to keep spending when I start. At any rate, the exact numbers will be known later this week when I get everything transferred to my spreadsheet and summed.

And I will start over in June - with fresh goals and fresh ideas. One of my goals for the month is to clean out my closet, my room, and my workshop of things that can be sold or donated which will both reduce clutter and either build my savings or pay off part of the bike.

Health Profundity

This weekend I was chatting with Pop and observed rather bitterly that I feel best when I wake up late and go motorcycling. He said, "well, why don't you do that?" So, I am going to start sleeping in later in the mornings and going in to work a bit later. The reason I have been getting up so early (6:00ish) is to "beat the traffic" to work and get a good parking spot in the garage. Neither of these is a concern - I can "filter through the queues" as the Britons say and motorcycle parking is hardly at a premium at work. I do feel much better when I wake up even an hour later and really don't like making myself go to bed at 9:30 when the rest of the family stays up until 11:00. Besides, it makes me sound like a wet blanket when I say "I'm going to bed, turn the theater down so it doesn't keep me awake." This arrangement should work better for all of us and on those rare occasions when I do have to drive the car, I'll just get up early on those days and it'll be a special treat to get home early.

On another note, I see my pulmonologist tomorrow and will ask him what his thoughts are on my excessive bronchial mucus production. I have been on antibiotics THREE weeks now and have noticed no statistically significant change for either better or worse. I must admit that I'm getting a little bit frustrated with the situation and am about ready to throw in the towel on this doctor. Hopefully he has something profound tomorrow but I have my doubts.

Memorial Day Weekend and an Apology

First of all, an apology to my readers: I have fallen behind lately and have been posting a couple days late and backdating. The backdating is not to be deceptive, but so that posts in the archive will fall in the proper order on the proper weekday. I'm going to try to work up a few posts in advance so I have a little buffer in the future.

Since this post was actually written on Tuesday (5/26), I'll cover all of Memorial Day weekend.

Friday was my day off work, so it was actually a 4-day weekend. I started off going to breakfast with Stevo on Friday at Creme de la Crepe in Redondo Beach. This place rules. It's authentic French food, French press coffee, and French waitresses. I got a custom crepe with Raclette cheese, turkey, tomatoes, and chardonnay creme sauce.

Saturday I got a haircut, took a motorcycle ride (on the BMW) with Stevo (on Daniel's scooter) around Palos Verdes peninsula with a pit stop for a snack at Malaga Cove Market. Later that night, I picked up Mom and Dad from LAX (which was insane) upon their return from St. Louis visiting Dad's mom. They brought back sandwiches from Amighetti's. St. Louis has some of the best food in the US.

Sunday involved church in the morning, Rudy's for brunch, and an afternoon of cleaning the garage. We got rid of a lot of stuff and did some reorganizing to make the available space and stuff more useful. Sunday night we watched The Day the Earth Stood Still - the new one with Keanu Reeves. I am a big fan of the original and was impressed with the new one. It's more of a re-imagining but they capture the essence and fear of the original while translating it into a modern setting.

Monday was taking stuff to Goodwill and another motorcycle ride around the peninsula - this time with Daniel and me on the BMW and dad on Daniel's scooter. We stopped at the yellow taco truck at Vermont and PCH - which has the best tacos around. Later in the evening we watched Ronin, a DeNiro film from 1998 with the best car chase scene in a movie that I have seen to date.

All in all it was a good weekend with lots of quality time with family and even some productivity.

Two Reviews: Ben Folds Concert and Star Trek

I guess this isn't STRICTLY a financial post, but they're both things of an entertainment nature that I spent money on after some consideration so it flies, albeit loosely.

Wednesday night (5/20) I went to a Ben Folds concert at the Hollywood Palladium. I took a friend who is a big Ben Folds fan for a belated birthday celebration. The venue was really cool. The Palladium is an art deco style relatively intimate venue with standing room (dance floor, balcony, VIP balcony) for about 4,000 people. The acoustics were excellent - we stood on the balcony about 45 degrees of the center of the stage. The concert itself was great. Four acapella groups opened with Ben Folds covers and the audience voted for their favorite by applause. Ben himself is an awesome pianist and singer. The band was also quite good - drum set drummer, miscellaneous percussionist, keyboardist, and bassist. I knew probably about half the songs - Ben did a fair bit of his newer stuff. For the encore, he brought out Josh Groban to sing for the first song and then did a Dr. Dre cover for a final closer. Final verdict: a great concert at a great venue - well worth it.

Thursday night (5/21) I went to see Star Trek in IMAX at The Bridge with my brothers and a couple friends. The IMAX experience is never disappointing and the film itself was quite good. The characters were well written and acted, and the first time Kirk plops down in the captain's chair it screams young Shatner. It's cool meet all the familiar people from The Original Series as young men and women. I don't want to give away any plot for those who haven't seen it, but I can heartily recommend it for experienced Trekkies and newbies alike.

John 1:1-14 Haiku

word: is/is with god
light coming - john proclaims first
word: flesh among us

Health Update 5/19/09

Note: This post has been date-adjusted to fall on schedule. It was actually composed on 5/21/09.

Not a whole lot to report from last week. My lungs still seem compromised - I cough up a lot of stuff in the morning but it calms down after a couple hours. Since I've been on this round of antibiotics for 2 weeks (and other stuff for quite a while before then) and nothing should have survived this long, I'm wondering if this might not be one of a few things:

  • My body is confused and the mucus production is an erratic immune response
  • The Oxymatrine is starting to have some effect and my body is attempting to rid itself of the virus that my infectious disease doctor believes I am harboring (and have been for some time)
  • The copious amount of goat/sheep dairy that I am consuming is actually more mucus-producing than I have been led to believe
  • Some combination of the above

I am not getting better by leaps and bounds but I am definitely not getting worse so there is some hope. I have been very busy the last week and haven't been to the gym since last Monday.

Riding my motorcycle is doing me some good. The psychological boost alone from doing something I had missed for the last year has been great. It gives me a time of tranquility and reflection every morning and afternoon. Also, my back and neck feel a bit more limber than usual.

Mark O'Connor Concert

My dad plays fiddle and is a huge fan of fiddle music. So my brother Stephen got tickets for a concert last Thursday at UCLA.

Thanks to a large grant from Herb Alpert (of The Tijuana Brass), UCLA majorly re-structured their music program and department for the recent school year. Mark O'Connor, a world-renowned fiddle player, was this year's Artist in Residence. He gave a phenomenal concert.

The concert primarily included Mr. O'Connor's own compositions, including a brass fanfare at the beginning and string combo, solo fiddle, and chamber string orchestra pieces. Aaron Copeland's Appalachian Spring was also performed, along with a duet playing "Satin Doll" with an incredible jazz guitarist whose name escapes me currently.

The music was excellent and varied and the musicians were incredibly talented. If a chance arises to see Mark O'Connor, I highly recommend making the effort to go. For string players, Mr. O'Connor holds a String Institute (formerly known as fiddle camp) every summer. This summer's Institute is being held at UCLA but is probably sold out.

A slight change of financial plans...

After a year of the Silverwing being non-operable and a week of consideration and logistics, I purchased a new motorcycle - a 2008 BMW F800ST (slightly used with only 2300 miles):

Although this will set back the repayment of my student loan by a couple years, I feel it was a good purchase - especially for my emotional health (which certainly impacts other health). I am still maxing my Roth IRA and contributing a healthy amount to my 403(b) at work. The bike will also reduce the amount I am paying for gas since it gets awesome mileage and will prolong the useful life of the Corolla since I'll only be using it occasionally. In addition, I was able to get full-coverage insurance on the BMW along with liability for the Silverwing and the scooter for only about $100 more annually than I had been paying for liability for the other two.

I'm very excited since I've missed motorcycling quite a lot - I didn't realize how much until I got back on this weekend. I'm already planning to take some weekend trips and will be sure to take the camera with.

Isaiah 38-39 sonnet

Oh woe is me; I'm at the point of death.
Isaiah's here; he says to sort my things.
I will not heal; there is not much time left.
It's heavy news for mighty Zion's king.

I'll pray Yahweh relieves this time of strife.
Isaiah's back with news from my appeal:
For fifteen years I will be spared my life.
The sun goes back ten steps to show the deal.

When I fell ill I was in quite the slump.
I knew my days were numbered in this world.
Isaiah came with figs to heal my bump.
I will be saved, play music to the LORD.

Hey look, the prince has blessed my newfound health!
I'll give a tour and show off all the wealth.

Return to the Gym

Well, I may finally be on the mend. I'm now on my third round of antibiotics for this nasty bronchial infection. I'm still congested and coughing, but not as much as before. I've taken a week of the drugs so far and have 2 weeks' worth left if I need that much.

I returned to the gym on Monday after two weeks away (give or take) and took it easy but had no trouble. I took a walk today at a brisk pace (for me anyway) and did pretty well. My resting heart rate is lower too, which makes me think I'm getting better oxygenated.

I saw my infectious disease doctor last week, who theorizes that my health problems and immune difficulties started long ago with an enterovirus (my doctor is author of reference #5). He recommended I start taking Oxymatrine, an alkaloid extract from the Sophora Flavescens root, long regarded as a healing herb in China. I've only taken about a week worth so I think it's too early to say anything decisive.

All I can do is hope, trust and pray that someone will come up with something that makes a difference.

Cool Web Application Found: Fuelly

I just discovered the coolest thing since sliced bread. It's this web page called Fuelly. You put all the pertinent numbers each time you fill up your gas tank and it keeps track of your mileage. Of course, being a geek, I already had a spreadsheet that does this. I signed up (for free) and put my Corolla in my "garage" anyway, which you can see here (I already put in the back information I had).

"Extended Warranty" Ridiculousness

Normally, I am not a person to purchase "add-ons" like extended warranties, service plans, cell phone insurance and the like. Most small electronics depreciate rapidly and will outlast the terms (even if just barely) and I take excellent care of what I own.

However, a couple years ago I purchased a projector from Broadway Photo. I was called soon after my online purchase by a sales representative attempting to sell me a "bulb replacement plan." DLP projectors and televisions use a very bright light bulb that bounces off tiny mirrors and shines through a color wheel to produce the images. These bulbs cost $300-$400 apiece and don't get cheaper as the projector ages. The "bulb replacement plan" was sold by a third party company called RepairTech, cost $200 and allowed for free replacement of up to two bulbs within three years for whatever reason, including end-of-life (3000 hours for my particular projector). After questioning the sales rep about all types of scenarios, I felt assured that it was worth it to pay $200 for up to $800 worth of bulbs.

Well, after 21 months (coincidentally, the gestation period of an elephant is the same period of time), the bulb finally reached end-of-life so I set the replacement process in action. Much to my chagrin, the toll-free number was disconnected and the website was blank. Some Googling brought me to discover that RepairTech had gone out of business sometime in the summer of 2008. People with extended warranties were finding it impossible to get them honored and had been struggling for months in some cases.

I also did some Googling on Broadway Photo and discovered that they too had some customer satisfaction issues. I suspected this when I had pulled out my invoice and saw that they had adjusted the price of the projector upward by $200 and listed the warranty as $0.

My last course of action was to call American Express since that is the card on which I originally bought the projector. While they offer an additional one year of coverage beyond the manufacturer's warranty, they will not extend third party warranties.

Since I was not interested in struggling for months with no probable results (and more importantly, no home theater), I finally ended up just purchasing an OEM bulb for $335. Generic are available but more Googling indicated that not only is build quality typically very low, the light output and lifetime are quite variable and nearly always considerably less than OEM.

I'm still not sure whether I can definitively say it was a bad idea to purchase the "bulb replacement plan" when I did. In retrospect, it was obviously the wrong choice in this particular instance thanks to all the circumstances involved. I do know I won't buy any third-party extended warranties in the future. $16 saved a month would pay for the bulb in full. My brother Daniel came up with the clever idea to have a change box in the theater and throw a dime in every time the projector is on for an hour. I think this is a great idea.

Isaiah 36-37 sonnet

King Hezekiah rules for fourteen years,
But then Assyria invades the land!
Jerusalem remains; the army nears.
Rabshakeh comes – Sennacherib’s right hand.

He speaks Hebrew to all the people there
And taunts them, says, “You soon will be undone!
If you make peace with us we will be fair
But if you fight the LORD cannot save one!”

Upon this news the king does mourn and pray.
Meanwhile Sennacherib stirs war in Cush.
Isaiah brings an oracle in days -
Yahweh has pledged Assyria to crush!

The army’s slain – an angel of the LORD.
Sennacherib’s sons kill him with the sword.

Health Status

Not really much good news. I'm back on antibiotics as of last Wednesday. My lungs don't seem to be doing much better - I'm still coughing up lots of stuff and get winded really easily. The antibiotic seems to be taking its toll on my digestive system as well. The daily kefir and yogurt are probably keeping this situation from getting too bad.

I did mostly OK over the weekend; I went on walks both days. However, I got to bed pretty late Sunday night and didn't sleep well so that gave me a bad start to the week. Add to that the fact that the climate control in my office is screwed up and it's 80ish in the afternoon and I haven't had a great couple days.

I was too tired last night to go to the gym and am busy tonight but am going to attempt to get enough sleep tonight and go tomorrow. How well my exercise goes at the gym is a pretty good metric of my bronchial health since the treadmill gives numbers and I generally know how things went last time.

New Corolla Seat Upholstery

As I mentioned in April Budget Summary, I just got my Corolla's seats re-upholstered.

The original fabric was getting pretty worn and the color had faded quite a bit. In fact, the fabric on the driver's side outside bolster was worn through and the underlying foam was starting to wear as well. Something definitely needed to be done. I ultimately decided on re-upholstery after considering a few options:

  • Seat covers: High quality ones are expensive and still look like covers. Most of the rest are junk, gaudy, or both.
  • Used seats from Japan: On the positive side, the driver's seat would be less worn (RHD in Japan). However, they're hard to find, expensive to buy and ship, still 20 years old, interior patterns don't match, and lumbar support is on the wrong seat.
  • New racing or sport seats: Quite expensive and definitely won't match existing interior. Comfort would probably be the best of all options.
  • Have existing seats re-upholstered: Can probably get fabric to match pretty close, seat style stays original, don't have to have anything bulky shipped. It's still expensive and I'd have to be without my car for a while.

Upon the recommendation of a friend from work, I went with:

AP Auto Interiors
Alberto Perez
2344 Lomita Blvd.
Lomita, CA 90717

...and I'm really glad that I did! Alberto did an excellent job at picking a fabric that matches the original tweed very closely and the upholstery job itself. Here are a couple pictures (click on each for full-size):

The passenger's seat:

Closeup of headrest (new material):

Closeup of door panel (old material):

In addition to his excellent craftsmanship, Alberto added a bit of padding to the seat and back to return it to a firmer feel but not enough to make it look puffy. As a final bonus, I simply had to drop off my passenger's seat a week ago and only had to leave my car for a few hours yesterday, when I didn't need it anyway.

Total cost was about $615, of which I estimate $150 was materials based on the tax. Money well spent in my opinion.

April budget summary

Only two overages this month:

  • Vehicle: I decided to get my front seats upholstered, to the tune of $600 (half of which I paid as a deposit in April, the rest of which I will pay tomorrow). I have been planning to do this for some time and simply hadn't explicitly placed it in the budget. The balance will be included in May's budget.
  • Medical: I had a filling that came out in March, so that obviously had to be taken care of. Insurance and billing took about a month to catch up.

Groceries for The Maker's Diet are more expensive than I had been eating. I spent more than the last couple months but my grocery/entertainment category still came out about $20 under budgeted.

I definitely need to set up a flexible spending account next year - all the medical expenses could be pre-tax if I had taken the time to do so.

Isaiah 38

Sanctify! previewed Isaiah 36-39 on Tuesday night.

Given my recent health issues, Hezekiah's prayer in chapter 38 is particularly timely:

9A writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, after he had been sick and had recovered from his sickness:

10I said, In the middle of my days
   I must depart;
I am consigned to the gates of Sheol
   for the rest of my years.
11I said, I shall not see the LORD,
   the LORD in the land of the living;
I shall look on man no more
   among the inhabitants of the world.
12My dwelling is plucked up and removed from me
   like a shepherd’s tent;
like a weaver I have rolled up my life;
   he cuts me off from the loom;
from day to night you bring me to an end;
   13I calmed myself until morning;
like a lion he breaks all my bones;
   from day to night you bring me to an end.

14Like a swallow or a crane I chirp;
   I moan like a dove.
My eyes are weary with looking upward.
   O Lord, I am oppressed; be my pledge of safety!
15What shall I say? For he has spoken to me,
   and he himself has done it.
I walk slowly all my years
   because of the bitterness of my soul.

16O Lord, by these things men live,
   and in all these is the life of my spirit.
   Oh restore me to health and make me live!
17Behold, it was for my welfare
   that I had great bitterness;
but in love you have delivered my life
   from the pit of destruction,
for you have cast all my sins
   behind your back.
18For Sheol does not thank you;
   death does not praise you;
those who go down to the pit do not hope
   for your faithfulness.
19The living, the living, he thanks you,
   as I do this day;
the father makes known to the children
   your faithfulness.

20The LORD will save me,
   and we will play my music on stringed instruments
all the days of our lives,
   at the house of the LORD. [ESV]

About Prib's Musings

[Updated 4-28-2009]

This blog is primarily a place for me to journal my thoughts on whatever happens to be on my mind. In my about me post, I told about some of my interests and hobbies. My general blogging schedule will be:

  • Sunday: Miscellaneous
  • Tuesday: Health
  • Thursday: Bible study
  • Friday: Finance

...and other times on whatever topics come to mind.

I would also like this blog to be a place where my friends and family that I don't see on a regular basis can keep up with what is going on in my life.

I'd also like for it to be a place where discussion and interaction happens. Up to this point, most of my posts have simply contained a bunch of facts or happenings in my life. I'm going to be posting more things such opinions on current events and reactions to posts in other blogs that particularly interest me. I'll also review books I read, movies I watch, and interesting food I eat.

Feel free to browse the archives, both here and at my health blog (which has been superseded by Tuesday postings).

Pulmonary relief?

A few weeks ago, I was in pretty bad shape so I went to my pulmonary doctor. I was put on antibiotics for a couple weeks, some tests were ordered, and the doctor recommended some respiratory therapy. I also started The Maker's Diet around the same time. I didn't feel 100% at the end of the antibiotics but the lab has been slow in getting results. I have not been great the last week or so but have discovered a few key things:

  • The therapy is helpful. It includes oxygen, a nebulizer with albuterol (a broncho-dilator), and something called "The Vest" which vibrates your chest cavity - theoretically knocking phlegm loose from where it may be stuck. I did all 3 in concert this morning (I just received training on The Vest last night) and felt better upon coming to work than I have in a while.
  • I eat improperly on weekends. It's not so much that I deviate from my diet; it's the fact that I sleep in too late and get my schedule all messed up and usually don't eat enough to keep me going. With so little reserves, this is a bad deal.
  • Exercise is really important. If I intentionally push myself for half an hour or more, I can tell a difference in how I feel for the rest of the evening after a workout. Weekends usually sabotage this too in regards to schedule.
  • Kefir and yogurt, specifically goat-derived, are incredibly good for the gut and quite tasty, especially with some puréed berries mixed in. In general, The Maker's Diet has been helping. If nothing else, my appetite is much improved.

Moved Feeds to Feedburner

I just burned my feeds to Feedburner to allow for email subscriptions. This is a test post to see if people on the old subscription are getting the new feed.

Who is Prib?

[Updated 4-26-2009]

I'm an engineer in my late twenties who grew up in Illinois and transplanted to Southern California after graduating from the University of Missouri - Rolla (now Missouri S&T) in 2004 with my Bachelor's degree in EE. I completed a Master's degree, also in EE, at the University of Southern California in 2008. I work in satellite communications in the aerospace industry right here in the South Bay. I have retained a good deal of Midwestern opinions, tastes and quirks but appreciate the SoCal lifestyle and climate.

I am a hands-on detail-oriented person with an affinity for things mechanical. My favorite toys as a kid were LEGO bricks, and today I enjoy wrenching on my vehicles as a hobby. I also like computer programming, gadgets, photography, and playing the bass guitar.

I grew up in a Christian family and was saved at the age of five. My faith is important to me and I am active in my church, Torrance First Baptist. I attend and appreciate a paragraph-by-paragraph Bible study every Tuesday where we are currently studying Isaiah.

At the beginning of this year, I began diligently tracking my finances and implementing a monthly budget. I have honed the process over the last few months and have come to a pretty well-balanced mixture of savings, needs, and wants.

New layout

Astute observers will note that my blog is looking different. I'd very much appreciate feedback, both positive and negative on the new layout and color scheme.

Look for additional changes coming soon as well...

Spoils from the Torrance Farmers' Market

Clockwise from top left:

  • Ruby grapefruit
  • Sweet limes
  • Strawberries
  • Sage goat cheddar
  • Meyer lemons
  • Heirloom tomatoes
  • Persian cucumbers

Not pictured because it's in my belly:

  • Coffee
  • Crepe with goat cheese, green onions, tomatoes and egg

I'm planning to fix a curried lentil, tomato and lamb stew sometime this weekend. It shall be delicious.

March budget update

Well, this was kind of an insane month budget-wise.

I had unexpected expenses in both needs and wants. My car and motorcycle insurance as well as my motorcycle registration all came due within the last couple weeks. I also spent a decent sum over budget on my car as well - like I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I finally got around to installing my power locks and windows and needed a fair number of parts I thought I already had. I should be able to recoup some of this in the future by selling off everything I didn't end up using.

I was wise did finally add a category for unexpected this month, complete with a $200 allotment. I bought a fancy new (to me) smartphone and some other stuff and this category ended up overspent by about the same amount my grocery category was underspent. I decided to do some manipulation and moved the phone to grocery (this also includes toys and entertainment) since it was more of a gadget expense than a necessary emergency or unexpected expense. Now they're both within $10-15 of estimated/budgeted. Along with my new phone, I decided to get a data plan so that will add $30 a month.

I joined 24 Hour Fitness, which cost $60 up front (no joining fee but you must pay first and last month's membership upfront) and will cost $30 a month but will hopefully pay off in health benefits. After finally getting my chiropractic billing issues straightened out, I decided to cut my chiropractic back to every other week instead of every week. I'll just make sure to stretch more. I do know that regular exercise does help my back remain limber.

I set up some automatic savings plans for my Roth IRA through Scottrade (to be fully funded by December 31), payments toward principal on my student loan, and a fund for future car insurance and registration expenses - both of the latter through ING Direct where I opened sub-accounts specifically for those purposes.

I also received my federal income tax refund, which was sizable. I immediately transferred most of it to my ING Direct general savings account. I'm not going to frivolously spend the rest - I left it in my checking account as a cushion since the car insurance wiped that out.

My goal for April is to have everything come out at or under budget (except savings). We'll see how I do. I still do have that unexpected category for contingencies.

I joined the gym

After quite a while of sporadically working out at home, I decided to join 24 Hour Fitness today. I think that making exercise an event rather than something I squeeze in "if I have time" will make me be more regular. Besides, I'll feel like I'm wasting my membership fee if I don't go. I also figured out rather quickly last summer when I was in Pulmonary Rehab that I like exercising in a climate-controlled environment and that I like variety in my cardio (I only have an exercise bike at home).

Tidings from my corner of existence

This is going to be a stream-of-consciousness post. Be warned.

Work is going well, albeit a bit slow. I am enjoying what I am working on but it seems all those in charge of doling out work don't want to dole out too much. This can get frustrating but considering the position many are in, I feel fortunate with the relative job security I do have. At this point, it does not seem that Aerospace is going to have any layoffs in the near future. I must say, I do like my job and the people I work with.

I have kept up with my expense tracking and budgeting but got lazy and didn't do a February summary post. I kept within my bounds with two exceptions. I didn't budget for clothing and went shopping for a few more nice shirts. I ended up buying a really nice (alas, also expensive) tie as well sort of impulsively but I had been intending to get a nice tie that wasn't dated for a while. I also spent a good portion of the month fighting a nasty case of pseudomonas and had a fair number of doctor visits and medicines for which to make co-payments. My grocery/entertainment/etc. budget came out something crazy like 7 cents under if I remember right. I started an ING Direct high-yield (1.65% APY, which is arguably not very high) savings account and funded it with my upcoming due student loan interest. I got a $25 bonus for opening the account.

When I bought my car about a year ago, there were several upgrades that I intended to make so I bought a bunch of parts. Then they sat in my garage for several months. A couple weekends ago I decided to start installing this stuff (power windows, power locks, keyless entry). Naturally, some of the parts I bought were wrong since I have a coupe and most Corollas of that era were sedans. I am now awaiting official Toyota parts ordered with official Toyota part numbers from an official Toyota parts counter. I also decided I don't need remote start and paging so I got a simpler system that will be easier to install and meet my needs better. Getting all this stuff installed will serve a dual purpose - I will not only be improving my car and making my driving experience more enjoyable, I will be clearing clutter from my garage.

I also ordered the last two o-rings for my motorcycle. Now I can drop the engine, Loctite and tighten the two bolts, install the two o-rings, and put it all back together. I'm hoping to do this in two weekends (coinciding with my next Friday off) which means I have to get the garage cleaned to a certain point before then. This will be good because the weather is finally starting to get nicer and riding season is getting close.

My health has been mostly lousy for a couple months. More on that in the next couple days on my health blog.

I've been watching Twin Peaks episodes to occupy the time while I'm on the exercise bike. Twin Peaks was a David Lynch TV show from the early 1990s about a logging town in Washington state. It's a great show and I am bummed it only lasted 2 seasons.

I'm teaching Bible Chewing and Beyond (basically how to get the most out of scripture and how to get the most of it in you) lesson 1 to the Christian Education committee in about an hour. This is my first solo teaching outing so I'm a little bit nervous but mostly excited - Sanctify has been working on the curriculum for a couple months now and I like the direction the church leadership is pointing the congregation.

I started Moby Dick at my infusion last Friday. I think this is the third time I've started reading it. I read about 150 pages in around 3 hours, which is about half the rate that I generally read Harry Potter. Moby Dick does have smaller print, and the English is definitely more refined and ornate.

That's about it for now, I'm considering taking a different approach to blogging and just pop on and write a paragraph every couple days instead of writing tomes every couple months. We'll see.

January Budget Report

Overall, I did well. I tracked every cent I spent the entire month, including mundane stuff like soda from the snack fridge and parking meters. Without going into boring detail, I managed my expenditures well. I did go over in grocery, entertainment, and eating out (all 3 are the same category) and had a couple unexpected expenses - namely a new microwave and the registration fee for the Navigator prayer retreat. My chiropractic was much higher than projected since I had several outstanding visits.

The chiropractic and unexpected were necessary and worthwhile expenditures so I don't feel too badly about that. My food and fun budget was $465 ($15 per day) and my excess for the month was $70. I can look through the month's expense list and see a handful of things I could knock off - I purchased a video game on impulse on the first of the month that was about $45 of that and taking a salad from home for lunch costs about half what it does to buy from the salad bar (and my salads are fresher and contain exactly what I want). Despite my excess expenditures, I did manage to contribute a significant chunk to my Roth IRA for tax year 2008, which brought my yearly contribution to half the allowed limit.

I have already learned the value of tracking expenditures daily and established a habit of doing so - when it's at the forefront of your mind, it's not difficult to have a pb&j sandwich instead of going out for mediocre fast food or to pass on junk food at the supermarket. I've also learned it's important to be flexible - it may be more important to participate in an activity or have lunch with friends than to save another few bucks.

One cost associated with this new mode of operation may end up being one of my dress shirts! I often jot down what I spend at work on a post-it note and stick it in my shirt pocket. Last time I washed my shirts, I overlooked one of these and it bled yellow onto my blue and white striped shirt. I hope I can get it out - I did wash it cold but also dried it.

My financial goals for the year include funding my Roth completely for 2008 and 2009 (2008 may be funded until April 2009), starting an emergency fund, and beginning to make principal payments on my remaining undergraduate student loan (which was in deferment until I earned my Master's). The balance of emergency fund/savings account to student loan principal remains to be determined.

Stuff and Things

Well, here I am again after 3 weeks of silence - longer than I intended but better than 3 months for sure.

I had a blast with my cousins and aunt over New Year's weekend. We showed them a lot in just a few days including Hollywood, PCH up to Malibu, the Metro Rail, Alvera Street, and lots of good food. Mom and my aunt and my cousin's wife went to the Rose Parade and the men slept in, watched college football, played Frisbee at the beach, and ate good cheap Mexican food from El Burrito Junior.

The Navigators prayer retreat was great. I didn't have any idea that praying for an entire weekend could be that engaging but it really was. I was quite outside my typical comfort zone with about 35 people I didn't know, but actually acclimated quite quickly. It gives me hope that my social skills haven't atrophied completely - having a common purpose (conversation and communion with God) and knowing it was a friendly, positive environment certainly helped break the ice.

This brings me to my only actual New Year's Resolution. I want to be more social. I know it's vague, but I couldn't think of a good way to quantify it.

My budgeting is working - I have spent a lot less this month than many in the past and am only over by a little bit in grocery/eating out/entertainment month-to-date but can still finish within constraints if I am careful the next 10 days. I did have a couple unexpected expenses - a new microwave (which has a utilitarian purpose - it cooks my oatmeal perfectly without intervention) and the prayer retreat registration fee (which was well worth it). I also had a couple outstanding bills that will go down next month. Even with all that, I have still managed to (already) put some into savings.

I watched some of the inauguration festivities yesterday and was honestly impressed with President Obama's speech. I am trying to be positive and trust that he is in place for a reason instead of dwelling on how I disagree with him since feelings of resentment will do nothing productive.